Someone that knows more about pitching than me can take a shot at this, but I've been trying to figure out why Sale is having the season he is. Relative to 2018, a few observations:
- His ERA is a lot higher and objectively bad (2.11 -> 4.41, 52nd out of 72 qualified)
- His FIP is a lot higher but objectively good (1.98 -> 3.35, 14th out of 72 qualified)
- his xFIP is higher but objectively exceptional (2.31 -> 2.91, 3rd out of 72 qualified)
- His velocity is down (95.2 -> 93.4 on his 4-seam)
- His K/9 is similar (13.50 -> 13.18)
- His BB/9 is slightly higher (1.94 -> 2.24)
- His HR/9 is a lot higher (0.63 -> 1.41, 20th worst in baseball out of 72 qualified)
- He's been nearly as good with bases empty, with AVG (.201 -> .202), K/9 (13.18 -> 13.34), BB/9 (2.13 -> 2.73), wOBA (.261 -> .275), Hard Hit % (26.1% -> 30.7%), HR/9 (0.84 ->1.17)
- He's been much worse with men on base, with AVG (.144 -> .255), K/9 (14.02 -> 12.39), BB/9 (1.62 -> 1.47), wOBA (.194 -> .324), Hard Hit % (27.3% -> 43.5%), HR/9 (0.30 ->1.80)
Even though Sale's velocity is down, that doesn't seem to be the problem. He's still missing bats, his K rate is phenomenal, and the velocity is there when he wants it (his last pitch last night was 97). While not as good as last year, his FIP and xFIP are still really good, mostly because his K rate is so good, his BB rate is so low. However, his HR/9 has spiked to the point where it's one of the worst in baseball. More specifically, he is *much* worse with men on base than last year. Last year, with men on base, he became nearly unhittable. This year, the opposite is happening, with guys hitting him much harder. Given that he's walking batters at a higher clip this year, he's pitching with men on base more often, which is fueling this sort of negative feedback loop. Anecdotally, this makes sense. Several times this year, Sale is cruising until he gives up a walk or a base hit, and then the wheels fall off as guys start hitting the ball out of the park.
This implies that Sale's real issue is that he has some kind of mechanical issue out of the stretch, either by tipping his pitches or by struggling with movement or location. Maybe it's a little bit of both. This seems like a much more fixable issue than injury or age-related decline. Is there anyone here that can speak to his mechanics with some expertise?